Parents Responsibility in the fight against Childhood Obesity
Author: Otolorin Opeyemi PT
Bowen University Teaching Hospital (formerly Baptist Medical Centre)
Oyo State, Nigeria
Job title: Physical Therapist.
The Role of Parents in Preventing Childhood Obesity
The increased rate in childhood obesity is alarming and has very many organizations rallying round to help, still the figures increase yearly. This has made me think and conclude that, advertising may spur a change, but the real work starts in the home with parents and care-givers pitching in.
In Africa, with the double whammy of hunger and obesity, children living in the urban areas are more susceptible to developing obesity in childhood translating to overweight/obese adolescents, and even overweight/obese adults (this has been proved by a study carried out on children aged 5-19 years in Lagos, Nigeria, and also in Kenya, Botswana and some other African countries).
In the rural areas, children are taught early in life what to do with respect to house chores, and helping out on the farm. Some even have to walk several miles to school or to get access to water, which is usually a stream or bore-hole. All these are changing as civilization gradually goes into such areas and more western cultures especially in dietary influences are embraced. As much as civilization is welcomed, it poses a question of how soon the obesity endemic reaches such areas. Not a question of ‘if’ but ‘when’.
Their urban counter-parts have all these amenities provided for. With the increasing number of fast food joints on every corner, children are exposed to take out and unregulated food intake. These may lead to poor dietary choices, which may form habits that are hard to break-off. The advent of computer games, has robbed children of the fun of playing outside. I am not condemning the computer/video games, I think and admonish that very few hours be ascribed to them.
In the rural areas, where there are acres of farmland and village squares and open spaces, children enjoy the freedom of exploring the countryside, playing mind games while keeping fit, even without knowledge of it.
A growing child could be likened to a clean slate, where you can help develop healthy habits. They may also be likened to a mirror, reflecting that which is shown. They need help especially in their formative years to develop and hold steadfastly to the right attitudes and habits. They also need help with decision making and knowing when to say no. I believe this is the age and stage to begin to inculcate in them the necessary healthy habits. One need not go through extreme measures to see this through.
Children are good imitators. They duplicate what they see and hear. This is very important in helping a child develop good and healthy habits. Introducing fruits into their mealtimes and gently explaining the benefits helps. Also, using natural alternatives to processed foods will help. Taking them out for walks, a run or encouraging them to participate in sporting activities at school also helps. This helps to build confidence, increase their social circles while keeping fit and engaging in healthy competition.
The key is this: parents, teachers, care-givers and all should be good examples so children can see for themselves the long term effect of making healthy choices.
In conclusion, this writer believes that children are stimulated mentally and physically when they are active and engage in games like ‘Flip2beFit’ and ‘Bakari’. These are family games i.e. every one member of the family can participate. Also, it is a great idea for children’s parties, recess at school, etc. the children get to spend more time with their parents or better still, parents get to spend more time with their children. It also helps to strengthen the bond in the family while everyone has a measure of some healthy fun. The healthy choices made as children would be carried forward into young adulthood and eventually full grown adults.